Hello and Goodbye

On the first day of winter we say hello
On Christmas day we say goodbye

Montana winters can be beautiful. . .and brutal.

It was below zero on Christmas morning when our most senior mare, Grumpy Grulla, died. She lay down in the snow near her family and went to sleep. Grumpy would have been 30 years old this spring.

In 1994 I named her Grumpy Grulla. She was quick to mete out discipline. Any foal bending the rules of wild horse society would be met with flattened ears and a stare that frightened a youngster into submission. Just a subtle movement of her butt toward them and they quickly shaped up. It was amazing to watch.  

Grumpy was one of the first Pryor mustangs I ever saw, waiting in the pre-dawn shadows while her elegant band stallion, Raven, ate snow at the base of a red butte. 

Raven races across the mountaintop

Noticing my sister and I watching nearby, Raven snorted, alerting his family to danger. In unison the band, including Grumpy, exploded into view and raced away. It was my unforgettable introduction to the Pryor Wild Horses. 

Raven's family in June 1994, lft to rt Grumpy, her foal and yearling, Isabella, her foal behind her, Phoenix and her foal. Only Isabella's son, Diamond, survived to adulthood.

Grumpy, Sierra, Chalupa and others driven in)

When she was 21, Grumpy, her family, and many other older wild horses were removed from their Pryor Mountain home in the cruel 2009 helicopter roundup. Rather than see these family bands torn apart, we set out to keep the older animals together.

Mystery, Moshi, Sierra, Grumpy, Lily

We adopted them, and Grumpy was allowed to live in freedom with her family. She was bright-eyed and full of personality to the end. 
Four days before Grumpy died, a surprise package arrived at the Montana ranch we rent for our Pryor mustangs. It was the first day of winter. Our caretaker, Mary, was out breaking ice on that frigid morning when she noticed a tiny newborn foal with her mother Chalupa.

Mary called and told me about the unexpected birth. “I’ve been calling her Winter,” she tells me, and I am quick to reply, “Winter. What a perfect name!”

Winter is a month old when Ann Evans, Kristen Collett and I make a bittersweet trip to the ranch. It won’t be the same without our amazing senior mare Grumpy.


Then we see the horses coming through the snow. They are trotting uphill toward Mary’s husband, Sam, who drives a skid loader full of square bales of hay into the snowy pasture.

In the lead is five year-old Lily followed by the other horses in her extended family.

Photo below by Kristen Collett. Left to right, Cavalita, Mae West, Chalupa, Pistol, Winter, Sierra, Moshi, Evita, Josie, Lily, Mystery. Not pictured: Trigger

Sam unloads the hay and the horses move in to eat on the big square bales, forgetting about me. While Kristen (right) has a chat with Lily, I slowly move toward the others. Confident Pistol munches away as I approach the filly and sit in the snow.  Hello Winter, I whisper. 

The foal moves shyly away. What must she think of this strange human with a camera?Winter stands behind her mother. Then she wedges her way between Mae West and Lily. The foal mouths a sprig of hay, imitating the adults, but keeping a wary eye on me.

Chalupa and her mother, Moshi

What a lucky little filly. She has her family—her aunties, her mother Chalupa, her grandmother Moshi, and the young stallion, Pistol. This was the concept behind our decision to buy and adopt the older horses in 2009—to allow them to continue living as families.

As Sam helps us distribute the “presents” we brought, I half-expect to see Grumpy trotting over the hill. How she loved her rolled oats and horse candy! Surely she is here in spirit.

She strikes a proud pose. The unusual marks on her pretty face and chin are certainly distinctive.  Her ears are curved inward like her mother, and I wonder if she will lose the tips? Mary told me it was terribly cold the night Winter was born. Her ears, wet with amniotic fluid, might well have been frost-bitten. But, so far so good. They are perfect crescents--a Spanish mustang characteristic.  

Moshi, Chalupa, Winter enjoying their hay

Kristen warns us of a wall of clouds moving in fast from the Crazy Mountains to the east and we hustle into our SUV as the snow begins to fall in earnest.  As we drive away I look back, trying in vain to see the horses through a swirl of blowing snow. Stay strong little girl, I silently wish. 

Happy Trails!

PS. Thanks to all of you who have sponsored our Freedom Family horses through the years. You can read more of their story here and learn how to be a sponsor. (Below: Mae West and Evita)

Kayah Swanson